Monday, November 29, 2021

Review: Charles Goode “Salad that only the devil can eat”

On the shelf

Salad that only the devil can eat: joys of an ugly nature

Charles Hood
Flourish: 224 pages, $ 16.

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Travel writing seems to reward the young and mobile. Was any of Paul Theroux’s recent books as poignant as his first? Older collections may find a once fearless (or at least indefatigable) scribe willing instead to ponder a sore knee or worse restaurant service, or even mourn what once was or could have been.

Charles Hood, a Southern California writer now in his 60s, is definitely sorry. There is his initial decision to become an English language specialist. for a long time, the divorce of a recent harvest, a choice he made as a father or teacher. But from these difficulties stems from the exciting core idea of ​​his new collection “Salad That Only The Devil Eat”: what seems ugly or ugly, with the right knowledge and context, can be considered unique, even gorgeous.

The introductory essay “I Heart Ugly Art” describes a job for which Hood applied in the late 1980s, teaching writing at an Antelope Valley college. “I drove down Highway 14 back to Lancaster, had lunch and then changed into a suit in the restaurant parking lot,” he writes. “I took out an earring and put on a wedding ring. I ran my fingers through my hair. Show time… It turns out they are looking for a lifetime commitment to teach correctional English. One of the potential leaders asks: “Did I choose the wrong way out? Did I know where I was? “

An avid traveler, poet, writer, traveler, but most of all someone who loves to drag beauty out of an unloved parking lot, Hood tells the committee the truth: he knows exactly where he is. In fact, his next stop is the “sewage ponds” across town, where he is named after a particular species, Franklin’s seagull, named after Sir John Franklin, a polar explorer who died of scurvy in 1847. “According to campus legend,” he remarks ironically, “I ended up standing on the table, waving my elbows and simulating bird calls.” Naturally, he got the job.

Charles Hood is a co-author of Wild Los Angeles and author of The Salad Only The Devil Eat.

(Jose Gabriel Martinez-Fonseca)

Hood’s essays often succeed thanks to the humor and concreteness born of decades of hard work by the thinker and the wanderer in search of small and beautiful things that are often poignant. (He also co-authored the revelatory Los Angeles Wildlife Guide.) In other words, anyone can tell you that Lancaster is more than just a place to refuel on the way on skis; In fact, Hood will convince you to take a closer look at this middle section of the highway, the “yellow static electricity of the chitgrass” that “fills in all the extra pieces of dirt.”

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Alongside such prosaic poetry, in a dozen essays on the desert, the suburban corners of Los Angeles County and some of the many countries and oceans, Hood continues to explore an equally impressive and slightly shabby knowledge of ecology and history. Where another naturalist might seem like a showy commoner, Hood feels like a tough older friend, tanned and wearing binoculars, when he tells us that California has 17 species of pine and more than 20 species of oak: black, island, bush, Engelmann. .. enough views to see them all was not easy. “

Indeed, what makes this collection such an enduring joy is ultimately how promising the author feels and how much he continues to enjoy traveling the world despite the double reality of bad knees and climate change. “I keep diaries to document my cultivation,” he suggests, “even when there is very little good news.”

Reading Goode’s works will make you feel smarter, but more importantly in this terrible age, become more open to the sublime. It happens in challenging moments. Hood asks an Indian biologist how many tigers live in Mumbai with a population of 13 million. He answers 300. “How did they get there?” Hood follows. “They’ve always been there.” Other moments of extraordinary beauty include the story of palm trees, those crazy California transplants that “repeat the lie: you can never be too tall or too thin.” Hood reports that 40 potted palms sank with the Titanic, and those planted decades ago in Los Angeles may well be on the brink of mass extinction.

Charles Hood - author of the collection "A salad that only the devil can eat."

Charles Hood is the author of Salad That Only The Devil Would Eat.


At least according to some studies. The truth – about palm trees and much more – we do not know. Ultimately, the book seems like a challenge to be as fun a traveler as Hood, and as open to the enjoyment of incomplete knowledge and imperfect nature as it does to seek untouched postcard perspectives. “Go until the border is closed, the crevice has widened, the herd is smaller, the engine will stall, or the epidemic has not spread,” he pleads. “Take a friend if you can; go alone if need be. But at least read this book. This is a real delight.

Dewell is the author of Friday Was the Bomb: Five Years in the Middle East.

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